Quack ‘n Track

I’m in Toronto, having a magical visit, so graciously hosted, so enthusiastically met in so many ways! It started with Toronto Cyclist Union activist (among many hats) Yvonne Bambrick meeting me at the airport and giving me a lucid download about local politics, transit fights, etc. while we bussed into the city. As we emerged from the subway later, Shamez, whom I’d met in Portland earlier this summer and was responsible for luring me here, met us with his rickshaw, ready to bring me straight to the famous Cinecycle where the Pages Bookstore “This Is Not A Reading Series” event was to be held about 15 minutes after my arrival. I was quizzed by Matt Blackett, publisher of Spacing magazine, a really interesting publication here in Toronto.

Here is Shamez bringing me to the door of Cinecycle just in time for my appearance…

The dialogue was pretty one-sided in that Matt threw me a question and I’d just go off, having to remember to pause after a while and get another prompting question. The audience was at least 50-60 people, maybe more, and it was great fun to meet Marc and Martin (?) who run Cinecycle with the incomparable Janet “Bike Girl” Attard. She showered me with gifts at the end of the night, t-shirts, posters, beautiful stencil art and gave me a tour of her impressive studio that is in the big 401 Richmond art building. The Q&A was interesting, but as usual, I’m so adrenalized that I can’t remember specific questions later, just that many people seemed inspired and engaged. One older hippie guy wanted me to suggest what he should do, now that his money bin was running dry, and he didn’t want to go back to a wage-labor gig… What could I say? Get a job! but I tried to be a little more subtle about it… Longer term maybe we can grow Nowtopian initiatives to the point that we can actually sustain ourselves without cash for long or even indefinite periods of time, but clearly it ain’t like that yet!

As an author, much as I’m railing against money and markets, I always have the end-of-the-Talk moment when book sales happen, or not, and yes, it feels good when lots of folks buy the book, which they have done at each of my stops so far. Here I am talking to Theo, a Bike Pirate, while signing books.

This photo is by Yvonne Bambrick, who takes great photos, many more of which are here.

Friday was a crazy day because Aurora R. here had done an incredible job of setting me up with radio interviews. So after staying out until 2 a.m. eating a great steak dinner with Yvonne and Shamez, I slept about 5 hours and got up to start my radio day at 8:30 a.m. with a half hour chat with Guelph Community Radio on their “Wake Up!” show. At 10:20 I was on CIUT, Univ. of Toronto, “The Green Majority”… a half hour chat with Murray Whyte of the Toronto Star by phone led to this interview in the Sunday paper today. Then I went to PROUD-FM radio for all of about 4 minutes with Shawn Proulx, who is a bike enthusiast but didn’t quite know what to do with me, unable to find a box I’d fit in… finally at 5:30 I was on for a half with John Moore on a big drive-time AM radio station CFRB, and we got a half dozen calls mostly from cranky old white guys in the ‘burbs who were adamant that Toronto was built for cars, and would always be a car-centric city, punto final! But Moore is a big cyclist and though he’s not plugged in to the local activist scene, it was interesting to realize that a big-name local drive-time DJ is actually a daily cyclist public transit rider who eschews the car as much as possible…

Another small example of how these Nowtopian sensibilities really are percolating in all kinds of surprising places. By the way, Orion Magazine excerpted a bit from the introductory parts of Nowtopia into a Point of View essay “Building the Anti-Economy” and there are comments piling up there, so feel free to join the discussion! And here’s a charming Nowtopian project that is percolating along quietly in Los Angeles (I’ve learned about a similar effort here in Toronto, the Urban Repair Squad)…

Shamez owns a fantastic French bistro, La Palette. I had a mind-blowingly great dinner there late Friday night, mussels in fennel and cream sauce to start, followed by bison, so tender and perfectly cooked, with a creamy potato and vegetable accompaniment. We drank great wines, smoked great pot, and wow, I even tasted horse! (Shamez says his neighbor jokes that she’s between a community-organizing horse eater on one side and a capitalist vegan sandwich chain on the other!)… And by the wee hours I nearly passed out, so engorged was I on my own adrenaline, multiple bottles of wine, smoke, fantastic (and fantastically rich) food… La Palette is of that breed of restaurant that is all about conviviality, slowness, enjoyment, and yes, community. Which reminds me of a link I just got to Slow Food, No Labor, Nation, Eric Schlosser’s nice recap and critique of the just past Slow Food Nation weekend. He’s been hammering the missing guest at the table, the workers who produce and serve all the food! It’s great that he’s kept that front and center, a vital antidote to the self-congratulatory foodie culture that tends to overwhelm the social and political aspects of the Moooovement… Gordonzola, my friend and cheese monger at Rainbow Grocery, also chimed in with a nuanced account of his experience volunteering at the tasting pavilion.

Anyway, the title of this post, Quack ‘n Track, is Shamez’s signature line, for his duck and horse combo… talk about rich! Here’s a shot I took of his place, with the permanently installed garden car in front.

Before the late night feast we had earlier gone to a community picnic held in Dufferin Grove Park, where, after the picnic, I gave a Nowtopia talk with the aid of Andrew Munger, a local filmmaker (and neighbor of the park), whom I’d also met in Portland. Here’s a shot of the community garden with canopies in the background where about 100+ folks were enjoying a repast mostly harvested from their own garden. It’s a weekly affair, and is part of a general reclamation and reanimation of this park.

This photo is by Yvonne Bambrick, who takes great photos, many more of which are here.

The Dufferin Grove Park event was different than usual for me. The place is considered one of the most kid-friendly in the city, and sure enough there were at least a dozen small children with their parents in the audience. I love kids, but of course it’s difficult to focus on a speaker if little kids are constantly talking and bickering with each other, so luckily, a couple of moms figured it out and took the smaller children out of the room. Later one woman came up to suggest that the homeschooling movement belongs in the Nowtopian pantheon of activities, and we spoke about that for a while. Apparently there are a great number of folks, especially in the neighborhood around this park, who are into deschooling their children, and helping a different, critical sensibility flourish. She said she found a lot of my comments really resonant with their own critiques of teaching, schooling, and more… Yay! So gratifying to have these kinds of connections keep coming up. It feels like the momentum is still building, which is surprising and thrilling…

Saturday, after pushing away my hangover, I met up with Tammy Thorne, who interviewed me for an article to appear in the National Post next week, but meanwhile, she’s a live wire, and also edits a new bicycling magazine that just started here for the Cyclists Union and other activists called Dandyhorse. After our interview we went off on a bike ride and visited the new home of the Bike Pirates, in addition to passing the Bike Joint, another DIY community-oriented bikeshop here in town.

Me and Tammy Thorne outside of Bike Pirates in Toronto.

Later we were bombing through some of Toronto’s beautiful residential neighborhoods on our way to a gathering of local bike bloggers and we passed an unusual garden that featured sensuous boulders… Yvonne called out to the woman in the yard “Hey I like your front lawn!”… “er, uh, I mean… your–” and the woman yelled back as we disappeared, “My anti-lawn!” Minutes later we went back to get some photos.

Christie proudly told us of acquiring these boulders from the Niagara Escarpment legally by removing them from a farmer’s field who wanted them cleared. She was really happy with her anti-lawn, and even had put in a mini-water fall that wasn’t running as we went by, but she and Yvonne and Tammy got into a chat about local water, the city’s policy of disconnecting downspouts, its ongoing problems with managing storm runoff and things people are starting to do to address it with rain barrels and more… pretty cool!

The blogging roundtable was at the Gladstone Hotel, and I learned at the end that this group of 10 or so bloggers had never sat together in a meeting before. So I was a useful excuse to convene this bunch, and we had a tentative but ultimately pretty interesting sharing of views. As they were bicyclist-oriented bloggers, we mostly talked about bike-related issues. I’ve been impressed by the really large population of cyclists in Toronto, but equally impressed (negatively) by the unfriendly streetscapes they mostly have to navigate. There are some well-placed striped bike lanes on a few difficult arterial stretches, but generally cyclists are left to fend for themselves in extremely narrow spaces against the curb as two lanes of cars try to pass them. Surprising how many cyclists are out in the streets considering how poor conditions are overall. But I think there are a lot of new cyclists here like most places in North America during this past summer… tons of people are seeing other cyclists and figuring ‘why not me?’ and indeed, why not?

At a party last night I met an artist named Lyla Rye, who has cycled in Toronto for 25 years. While we talked about cycling and politics, she summarized the conditions for bicycling here: “It’s hideous, but it’s better than it was!”

This is a shot of the busy intersection of Yonge and Wellesley, which seemed to my newbie eye as somewhat typical of a Toronto that is replacing low-rise brick and early 20th century architecture with the March of the Glass Boxes that is homogenizing cityscapes from here to San Francisco to Shanghai...

Another bookstore reading this evening, and tomorrow I go to visit Hamilton for an overnighter…

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